So I’m over at the awesome Australian women’s site Mamamia, talking, as usual, about my nose. And you can read my piece about Bear not being Jewish and me marrying him anyway, in Huffpo. Or you can just stick around here and read this:
It feels a little like winter, suddenly. Like a switch in the sky was flipped. A matching switch inside me abruptly urged me to buy a red flannel shirt and make butternut squash soup. I resisted the pressing suggestion to add a pair of smooth brown leather almost-knee-high boots to the fun. There was some confusion over the wording of the soup recipe. It said “seeded squash,” and I thought that might be able to go either way. So I left some seeds. Which turned out to be obviously wrong and led me to wonder how I could possibly have gotten confused over something so embarrassingly clear.
I am getting married in a little over two weeks. I don’t believe that, even as I write it. I also can barely believe how many seeds ended up in the soup (I’m eating it now). I swear, it looked like maybe thirty, tops, when I was making it.
I feel like I’m doing something radical, getting married so young. Just read the wedding section of the New York Times. Which I don’t, but my mother does. Everyone is in their thirties. In their forties, even. When I submit my info for publication, I’m definitely going to be passed over in favor of a seventy-five-year-old marrying an eighty-year-old. When I told my friends I was engaged, I felt like I had to apologize. “So I’m engaged. I know, I know, it’s crazy. But I’m weird. You know how weird I am. I can’t even believe I’m doing this.”
I could believe I was doing it. In fact, it felt almost unhealthily normal. The first time I identified Bear as my fiancé to someone was at 8:00 the morning after he proposed, when the computer repairman arrived to diagnose his fantastically large and disastrously uncooperative new iMac. It suffered from unknown ailments that the repairman had never encountered. He laid it on the floor and opened it up.
“No, my fiancé’s.”
A grunt of acknowledgment. “K. Let’s see what we got here.”
And that was that. Bear was my fiancé. I had spoken the word. It was real. It felt real. It didn’t feel even slightly unreal.
I went outside and got in a cab. I got out at 116th and Broadway and met my friend Liane in front of Columbia. We walked in the rain down to 105th or so, where we gave in and sat down in a diner.
“I don’t feel excited enough,” I said.
“That makes sense,” she said. “I have a feeling no one ever feels excited enough in the moments when they’re supposed to.”
“It’s not that I never feel excited enough,” I said. “I feel really excited when he comes home in the evening.”
“That’s more important.”
“I felt really excited the other day, when we were on the train together. He rolled up his sleeves. You know, on his work shirt. It was exciting. His forearms are amazing.”
She laughed. “That’s a little different.”
“Well, he’s hot.”
“Anyway, my mom is really excited. She’s better at this than I am.”
“My mom would definitely be better at this sort of thing than me.”
“She keeps texting me. She’s using a lot of exclamation points.”
People kept calling. They sent flowers. Everyone was acting like something huge had happened. I felt tired. I was…Ordinary. Maybe a little worse than ordinary. As though all the expectations for my joy had piled up until I sank a touch. I sank the slightest bit, listing to one side. I was supposed to be laughing a lot. Giddily. I was supposed to be screaming and jumping up and down. I was supposed to be frantic with joy. Hurling myself at strangers and throwing my arms around them, yelping, “Oh my god! Oh my god!! I’m engaged!!!!”
I knew that I was going to get engaged to Bear. I knew it after we’d been dating for maybe a month. Every day, Bear asked me, “Will you stay with me forever?”
And every day I said, “Yes. Will you stay with me forever?”
So that was pretty much settled. It had always been there, in our relationship. Almost since we met. About two weeks after we met, when we were sitting on a plane together, flying to Utah, we joked about having kids. And about how they’d all have diabetes (Bear does, my dad does, his mom does, my brother does).
(104! Nice! Source)
When I was twenty-two, a friend of mine got married. She was twenty-four. I was stunned. How had marriage even occurred to her? She had only been dating this guy for a year. I disapproved enthusiastically with the rest of my friends. We agreed that she was a little crazy. Yes, he was obviously a fantastic guy. Charming, funny, the recipient of a Fulbright, openly devoted to her, a teacher of Latin and history who instructed a class of very fortunate high school students. They were happy together in ways that were perfectly evident to everyone around them. Their senses of humor were practically identical. As though God had told an obscure joke, partly in French, in a crowded room, and when they both laughed, God made everyone else vanish (not, like, killed them, but just in a magically poof! kind of way) so that they were suddenly the only ones there. And then they turned and their eyes met. And they walked slowly, slowly towards one another. And the music came up. Strings. Bass, cello. They played in a band together, actually. They harmonized flawlessly. But still. Marriage? It seemed gratuitous. Old. Way too big to comprehend. Why didn’t they just move in together?
I cried during their ceremony. They were grinning at each other the whole time. They looked like the happiest people in the world. Not an exaggeration. I was standing next to my then-boyfriend, writer of impressively awful poetry and mildly fashionable dresser, and I didn’t look at him. There was nothing to look at. There was no look to exchange. Come to think of it, I couldn’t imagine him grinning. His smile was very much under control. He had published a lot of papers, though, which meant that he was very, very smart, number one on the “everything” list I carried around in my mind and used to rate and rank every guy I encountered.
At the time, I was writing a fantasy story about a girl who had never slept in her life, a handsome blind professor named Simon, and a mysterious boy who didn’t seem to have any emotions at all. The boy was going to fall in love with the girl in a rush of his first and only emotions.
In the stories I wrote, there was only one partner for every protagonist. No one else really mattered. There was no such thing as dating. My then-boyfriend and I had gone on a few dates, before he asked me formally if I would like to be his girlfriend. On one of those dates, he brought me a rose. It was really very nice of him.
We walked back to the car in the January cold after the wedding. “Can you imagine us getting married?” I asked him.
He laughed. “I tried.”
“We wouldn’t look like them.”
“No. We don’t look anything like them.”
He made a joke about him being Puerto Rican, me being Jewish. How ethnic our wedding would be. That was the difference.
The real difference, though, was the smiling. The pure joy. The rightness of the thing.
But I decided there might be a chance I’d marry him anyway. A long time in the future. Because I figured by the time I was twenty-six or so, I’d have worked up that kind of joy. And then by the time I was thirty, I might be able to do something about it. I had a lot of time to practice.
I’ve gone through a lot of stages in my relationship with romance. I vacillate. I awkwardly erase and rewrite myself. Sometimes I define myself as romantic, sometimes I don’t. Mostly I don’t, because it feels a little childish. Embarrassing. I want to be defined by my brilliant, viciously sharp scientific mind. By my power suits and killer stilettos. By my fiery temper and my ability to make split-second decisions that affect millions of lives. I’m kidding. I barely made it through basic bio. I still can’t walk very well in high heels. Mom once told me I walk like a man.
At times, the only thing romantic about me was the fact that I was working on a sprawling epic about a young woman with inexplicable powers and a monster who guards the ancient city she lives in, and who begins to have feelings for her that he can’t suppress. In real life, I was working towards practical goals. I was eating lumpy pasta in a college dining hall. I was talking about the futility of having a relationship at this age. About how there weren’t even any guys worth dating in the entire university. Maybe one. I was struggling with math and acing gender studies. At the time, I didn’t realize that doing really well in gender studies classes wasn’t exactly the surest path to enormous success.
Mom always said it would be simple. She wasn’t the only one. It’s common knowledge. Ok, well, there are two conflicting sets of common knowledge. Or maybe they aren’t actually conflicting. Let’s see…
There’s this: When it’s right, it’s easy. You just know.
And this: Relationships take a lot of work. It’s the hardest thing you’ll do.
I always went by the second school of thought. I fought for relationships. I thrashed around inside them, flailing my arms and twisting my logic into the most unlikely positions in order to maintain something that looked like balance. Nothing is ever perfect. That’s life. You struggle. You argue. You put your hands on your hips and furrow your brow and then cross your arms over your chest and say, “That is NOT what I said. You’re making things up. I wish you would just admit that I’m right.”
You hold grudges. You hurt each other. Your partner says to you after a while, “Did you notice that we have a fight every single Wednesday? I mean, like, every single Wednesday. On the dot. A big fight.”
You say, “What are you talking about?”
He says, “You know, like last Wednesday, about—what was it about? That girl you thought I was checking out. And something about how she looked like some girl you knew in Hebrew school who said your shirt was ugly.”
“She totally looked like Sarah. That girl was really mean to me.”
“Yeah. Right. Remember?”
“Ok, yeah. What’s your point?”
“Ok, maybe.” Pause. “Ok, fine. Yeah.”
“Do you have any idea why?”
“Why we have to have a fight every week.”
“I don’t know. Maybe Wednesday’s just a bad day. It’s right in the middle. I’m always tired then. It feels exhausting, you know? Knowing there are two more days to go.”
That’s how it works. And then you start to feel guilty, and you wonder if you’re bad at relationships. And then you tell yourself that no, that’s just how relationships go. They’re hard.
And then sometimes they aren’t. Like with Bear. He doesn’t get angry. Sometimes he gets frustrated. But even his frustration is seldom directed at me. When he raises his voice, it’s kind of exciting. I smile by accident, even though I’m supposed to get more serious then. It’s difficult to tell how much of the gorgeous simplicity of this relationship is due to the relationship, and how much is due to Bear’s personality. It could be that he is just the easiest person in the world to be with, and I just happened to stumble upon him, much like one stumbles upon the best pizza parlor in the world, two blocks from one’s apartment. Sometimes you just get lucky. I actually feel like comparing him to pizza a lot. Probably because, aside from Bear, pizza is one of the only things I’ve felt completely committed to. And not just committed as in “this is my duty, and I stand by my responsibilities with pride,” but committed like, “this is so good I could never stop wanting it.”
Which is why I’m going to marry him in a little over two weeks. But even so, even with knowing that he is like pizza, and that he is almost improbably easy to live with, I can’t believe that I’m getting married. I’m too young. I never finished that story about the girl who never slept and the mysterious professor, and the incredibly powerful, dangerous boy who had never experienced emotions. I don’t know what my take is on romance. I’m still learning about everything.
But then, maybe, as Liane said at the surprise bridal shower my mother recently threw for me, “Marriage is a continuation, not an end or a beginning.” In which case, I’m gonna just keep doing what I’m doing, except that next time, there won’t be even ONE seed in the damn squash soup.
* * * *
Un-Roast: Today I love the way the fat on my sides feels when I pinch it. I’m supposed to hate it, because it’s fat and it’s there, but the truth is, when you close your eyes and pretend no one ever told you fat was disgusting and ugly, it feels pretty nice.
P.S. Thanks to Annabel Candy, for recommending Mamamia to me. Gotta love those Australians….
P.P.S. The “Everything List” (in case you were wondering):
1. He would be very, very smart
2. I would be intensely physically attracted to him
3. He would be really kind
4. He would make me laugh, and not just when he tried to write love poems
5. My parents would think he was awesome
If I was going to be picky, I might add
6. He would have a good musical ear
7. He would have broad shoulders
8. He would have strong hands
9. He wouldn’t like video games
10. His nose would be bigger than mine
If I was going to be even pickier, then
11. He would be a great eater.
12. He would buy me flowers that weren’t roses
13. He’d have a mop of lustrous curls, preferably auburn or black